Building better roads: 450K grant funds Rowan University study to replace costly nuclear testing of soils

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We walk on it, travel on it, and our children play on it; yet, we spend little time thinking about asphalt. However, Dr. Yusuf Mehta, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rowan University, is pounding the pavement to redefine it.
 

We walk on it, travel on it, and our children play on it; yet, we spend little time thinking about asphalt. However, Dr. Yusuf Mehta, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rowan University, is pounding the pavement to redefine it.

Mehta – who studies the design and application of asphalt/asphalt concrete and runs one of two University-based labs in the state – is working with a number of Rowan faculty and students on several research projects. Various federal and state agencies fund those projects pertaining to pavement engineering.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation recently awarded Mehta $450,000 to investigate alternatives to nuclear density testing of soils, a common but expensive quality control process during construction. As its name alludes, nuclear density testing is nuclear-reactive, and the NJDOT funded the project in hopes that Mehta and his team will discover a new method to substitute this costly practice – thus saving taxpayer dollars in the long run.

In nuclear density testing, engineers use gamma rays to determine the density of a material. An optimum density is critical to achieving better performing roadways.

“Nuclear density testing has strict protocols of usage,” Mehta said. “[The NJDOT] wants to find an alternative that is repeatable and accurate. They are willing to explore all options and have kept a very open mind.”

Because nuclear density contains numerous risks, the procedure is riddled with logistical issues, which in turn are associated with high financial costs. The costs include storage space for the equipment, travel time and transportation of the equipment as well as the extra fees to hire licensed professionals to handle the equipment.  

If a more cost-effective alternative were discovered through Mehta’s lab and field evaluations, his research could prevent the additional spending and difficulties associated with nuclear density testing. (Columbia University and Advanced Infrastructure Design, Trenton, N.J., are also part of the research team.)

In addition to the grant for nuclear density testing, Mehta has received $527,289 in grants for six other projects.

A second research project, which is funded by the University Transportation Research Center and the United States Department of Transportation in an $80,000 grant, explores the characteristics of reused asphalt for airfield pavements. 

In a third research project, COE staff and undergraduate students will work on a collaborative project with Rutgers University to maximize the use of reused asphalt by determining the properties of asphalt mixes with various oil rejuvenators. The project is funded via a $90,180 grant from the NJDOT.

Other projects study the impact of dust on the properties of mixes, pavement preservation strategies on Rhode Island roads, prevention of cracking in pavement and the verification of lab results with field results on the values of airfield pavement.

To learn more about Mehta’s research, visit http://users.rowan.edu/~mehta.

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